Possessions a plenty for Cougs
Jaylen Peake took the carry from teammates of the Big Cat Classic trophy and raised it toward the sky and ran toward the end zone one more time.
The senior running back answered the call on the offensive side the ball and rushed for three touchdowns Friday night against rival Corydon Central. It seemed fitting the 220-pound back would head toward the locker room with the trophy, returning it to Ramsey for a fourth straight time.
Class 3A No. 7 North Harrison dominated possession in the first half, opening a 28-0 lead before halftime. The Cougars went on to win 42-7, the fifth straight win over Corydon Central.
‘Their kids didn’t quit playing, and our kids didn’t quit playing,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘Tuesday, it was hot and we went full pads. This is the mentally toughest team I’ve coached. We understand it’s a 48-minute football game and everything is not going to go our way. I like our attitude.’
The underdog on paper, Corydon Central showed it was going to bring some might to the fight on the game’s first possession (which was delayed 30 minutes due to lightning). With North Harrison quarterback Jarrett Fenn rolling out, he was met by Corydon Central’s Jaeden Singleton for a seven-yard loss. Three plays later, North Harrison turned the ball over on downs.
Corydon Central failed to capitalize on the defensive stand. Turning the ball over the first of three times on the day as a team, running-back Canaan Mercer coughed up the ball, which was recovered by Chase Johnson.
Faced with needing 29 yards to score, the Cougars turned to Peake. His fifth carry of the drive was a 5-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead. The drive also saw Mercer, Corydon Central’s leading rusher and tackler, exit the game with an injury.
‘It was the best feeling of the season so far, recovering the fumble,’ North Harrison two-way lineman Colton Sieberns said. ‘We knew this was a dog fight, but we took the momentum early. We did what coach asked of us: chug down the field and get seven points.’
North Harrison’s defense didn’t allow the host Panthers to move the ball much in the first half. The first four Corydon Central possessions resulted in a 12 yards and two Cougars’ takeaways.
The lack of first downs also netted North Harrison decent starting field position. Starting near midfield, North Harrison’s second touchdown was Jake Harley swinging a run to the right for a 16-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
‘You can’t give North Harrison short fields, and we did that on two of their first scores,’ Corydon Central coach Aaron Humphrey said. ‘It took the wind out of us for a minute.’
Williamson said he was aware of Corydon Central’s slow starts in its first two contests.
‘I told our guys that, if they got off to a good start against us, it was going to be a dog fight for 48 minutes,’ Williamson said. ‘They did get off to a good start getting us off the field. Then, we get a fumble. I’m not sure if it was execution or us, but it was huge. To take it in, it steamrolled from there.’
North Harrison also had a back go off the field with an injury as well. After making a tackle for a loss part of a Corydon Central three-and-out, talented young player Isaiah Lawson was injured on the next drive. Taking a hand-off five yards, Lawson went down and was eventually aided to the sideline by Sieberns.
‘Our injury hurt too, and we hope he’s going to be all right,’ Williamson said.
Lawson broke off long touchdown runs in the season-opening contest at Salem.
‘He was a big loss for us,’ North Harrison’s coach said. ‘It’s tough.’
North Harrison went on to complete a 14-play scoring drive, capped by Skyler Wetzel stretching a QB sneak just beyond the goal line. Wetzel took some snaps at QB at different portions of the contest.
Down 21-0, Corydon Central had its first big exciting moment offensively when Chandler Money took a return 50 yards down to the 29-yard line. Two plays later, the Panthers were footsteps away from a touchdown. Breaking a pair of tackles, Corydon Central quarterback Noah Windell took a carry past the North Harrison defense toward pay dirt. Before No. 12 could reach the end zone, North Harrison linebacker Dylan Schmidt leaped to tackle Windell from behind, stripping the football away.
Wetzel pounced on the ball in the back of the end zone.
‘They almost scored with five minutes to go in the half, and Schmidt gets a great strip and our guys were able to recover it in the end zone for a touch back,’ Williamson said. ‘It could have been 21-7 at half but, instead, it’s 28-0.’
‘Noah’s fumble, once again, we are looking at possible 21-7 and getting the ball first in the second half,’ Humphrey said.
Taking the ball away, North Harrison marched down the field with a 14-play drive. The air game showed some promise as well for the Cougars. Fenn was 2 for 2 on the drive, including a three-step drop pass over the shoulder of Zane Armstrong for a 35-yard gain.
Several North Harrison carries later, Fenn went to the air after faking a hand-off to Johnson. Leaping just inside the end zone was Aaron Nevil, who was spun around while making the grab for a TD.
In all, North Harrison ran 45 offensive plays in the first half for 243 yards. Corydon Central ran only 12 for 36 yards. The possession differential led to North Harrison’s 28-0 lead.
‘Anytime you score right before half, it isn’t fun if you are on the other side and it happens to you,’ Williamson said. ‘I want to see the film because they said Nevil made a heck of a catch.’
‘We can’t have quick possessions,’ Humphrey said. ‘The way things went the first half was the way (North Harrison) wanted it to play out. I told the kids early in the week that we have to maximize our possessions because we may only get three a half. We weren’t able to do that.’
Peake went back to work in the second half on the ground. After recording a tackle for a loss on defense, Peake was able to score from two yards out midway through the third quarter. Also in the drive, Fenn completed his third pass in as many attempts for a perfect day in the aerial game.
‘Jarrett was 3 for 3 tonight, and we’ll improve offensively as we put in more things he can do,’ Williamson said. ‘This is only his fourth or fifth high school game ever. It’s three this year and maybe two last year. That’s it. He’s slowly getting more comfortable.’
Schmidt came up with his second forced turnover when he intercepted a Windell pass. Four plays later, Peake ran beyond the end zone and through the long jump pit from 33 yards out.
‘Jaylen is a brute,’ Sieberns said. ‘This is his first year on the defensive side of the ball, and he’s been an impact. He’s getting better each week on defense and, on offense, he’s doing the things everyone saw last year except this year he’s bigger, stronger and faster. He’s going to run over three guys instead of two guys.’
Corydon Central was able to avoid the shutout by putting together a nine-play scoring drive. Money took over a bulk of the rushing duties with Mercer out and had positive gains. Money ran in a touchdown from the 5 to reach the final score of 42-7.
‘I thought our guys really battled all game,’ Humphrey said. ‘North Harrison is as physical of a football team we will face all year. I thought we did a respectable job against them. We vastly improved from last week.’
Peake carried the ball 30 times for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Harley got 15 touches for 89 yards. As a team, North Harrison rushed for 310 yards. Coleman Biddle paced the defense with nine tackles, while Johnson had six. Matt Nealy was perfect kicking extra points.
‘This is the hardest game to prepare for because you know the other kids,’ Sieberns said. ‘Some of them are talking smack throughout the week, then you come out here face to face and you are a little shell-shocked at first. Once the game gets rolling, you get the mental toughness locked in and you get in the mind frame that you don’t know these kids. We came out, played physical and did our jobs.’
Corydon Central’s Money rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries, while Windell had 60 on six rushes. Windell completed 1-of-6 passes, the completion going to Alex Lee for eight yards.
‘Noah is a good ball carrier and does a good job,’ Humphrey said. ‘We need to continue to get a little better in the throw game.’
Humphrey said he can see the improvements through a tough early season schedule. All three opponents they’ve faced are 3-0 after week three.
‘I was proud of our guys for matching (North Harrison’s) physicality tonight,’ Humphrey said. ‘I told them they are this close but that far away. The kids came out ready to play. Now, we have to come back next week and get better.’
North Harrison has won five in a row versus Corydon Central. Overall, the Cougars lead the Big Cat Classic series 24-17 (and 28-17 overall, including four postseason match-ups).
The longest win streak in the series for North Harrison was from 1985 to 1991 when the Cougars took seven straight. Corydon Central had won six straight (2009 to 2014) until North Harrison went a roll as of late.
‘My freshman year, I was on the demo defense in practice,’ Sieberns, a senior for the Cougars, said. ‘Now that I’m out here playing, it’s one of the best crowds to play in front of. One side of the field has a crowd that thinks we’re terrible, and our side says we are great. But, it comes down to us executing. I love the aura of this game. It’s fun.’
Both teams will hit the road Friday with North Harrison traveling to Charlestown while Corydon Central heads to Scottsburg.
North Harrison 14 14 14 0 ‘ 42
Corydon Central 0 0 0 7 ‘ 7
NH ‘ Jaylen Peake 5 run (Matt Nealy kick); NH ‘ Jake Harley 16 run (Nealy kick); NH ‘ Skyler Wetzel 1 run (Nealy kick); NH ‘ Aaron Nevil 5 pass from Jarrett Fenn (Nealy kick); NH ‘ Peake 2 run (Nealy kick); NH ‘ Peake 33 run (Nealy kick); CC ‘ Chandler Money 5 run (Dylan Higginbotham kick).